I was born and named, Trevor, in 1955 when Father Trevor Huddleston was at the height of his powers. He was all over the news alongside a dour, but famous cricketer, Trevor Bailey. Huddleston was far more interesting and as I grew in the middle sixties and early seventies, he captured my imagination.
I was lucky enough to meet him – and work with him – several times in the 1980s and nineties. So here’s a bit about a man whom cancel culture and wokism wish would just go away. He never will.
His Early days
Father Trevor Huddleston was born on 15 June 1913 in Chaucer Road, Bedford, England to Ernest Huddleston and his wife. Soon after, the family moved to Golders Green, a suburb in North London.
At the age of four Huddleston served as a ‘boat boy’ in the Anglican Church, and at the age of five he went to a ‘dame’ school in Hampstead Garden. Two years later at the age of seven he went to Tenterden preparatory school in Hendon.
High School Years
After completing his high school education, Huddleston went to Lancing College, Christ Church at Oxford University between 1927 and 1931. He spent the next couple of years studying theology at Wells Theological College.
In 1939 he joined the Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican religious order. He served for two years as a curate at St Mark’s in Swindon, and took his vows in 1941.
And so to Africa for Father Trevor Huddleston
Father Trevor Huddleston was sent to the CR mission station in Rosettenville in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1943. As the Priest-in-Charge of the CR’s Anglican Mission in Sophiatown and Orlando, Huddleston ministered in the townships between 1943 and 1956. In 1949 Huddleston was elected Provincial of the Community of the Resurrection in South Africa and was made Superintendent of St Peter’s School.
The struggle begins
With the passing into legislation of the Group Areas Act in 1950, Father Trevor Huddleston, along with Nelson Mandela, Helen Joseph and Ruth First became involved in protests against forced removals in Sophiatown. This, along with his decision to close down St Peter’s rather than handing it over for government control under the Bantu Education Act, brought him in regular conflict with the authorities.
As a result, in the 13 year period of working in South Africa, Father Huddleston gained a reputation as a respected priest and an anti-apartheid activist. This earned him the nickname ‘Makhalipile’ or dauntless one. During this time he developed close friendships with Mandela and Oliver Tambo.
In 1954 Huddleston gave Hugh Masekela his first trumpet, passing it on from Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong. He then asked the leader of Johannesburg Native Municipal Brass Band, Uncle Sauda, to teach Masakela the basics of the instrument.
Honoured by ANC
In 1955, along with Chief Albert Luthuli and Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, Father Trevor Huddleston became the first recipient of the Isitwalandwe/Seaparankoe, the highest award given by the African National Congress (ANC) to people who have made an outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle of South Africa.
Recall to England
With increasing fears for Father Huddleston’s safety, he was recalled to England in December 1955, where he wrote passionately of the human misery that accompanied the force removal programme in Sophiatown. The book, Naught for your Comfort, was published in 1956, making headlines in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Founder of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM)
On his return to England, Father Trevor Huddleston worked as the Guardian of Novices at the CR’s Mirfield motherhouse in West Yorkshire for two years. He then worked at the Prior of the Order’s branch in London, where he remained until he was elected as a bishop.
On 26 June 1959, Huddleston and Julius Nyerere addressed the founding meeting of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) which was held in London. In 1961, Huddleston became the Vice-President of the AAM, a position he held until 1981.
In 1960, Father Trevor Huddleston was consecrated Bishop of the Masasi (Tanzania), a position he held for eight years. In 1968 he became Bishop of Stepney – a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of London. After 10 years as Bishop of Stepney Huddleston was appointed Bishop of Mauritius in 1978. In the same year he was elected Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean.
A stack of honours
Despite his church work, Father Trevor Huddleston increased his anti-apartheid work. In April 1981, after the death of Bishop Ambrose Reeves, he was elected President of the AAM, a position he held until 1994. He also became the Chair of the Trustees of the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, succeeding Cannon John Collins. In 1983, after he retired from the Episcopal office, he was awarded the United Nations gold medal. The Zambian government awarded him the nation’s highest award, the Order of Freedom 1st Class, in 1984. Huddleston also received the Dag Hammerskjold Award for Peace in the same year.
Artists against Apartheid
In June 1984, in order to protest the visit of President P.W. Botha, Huddleston led an AAM delegation to meet Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the same year he addressed the United Nations and delivered a worldwide petition calling for the release of Mandela. Huddleston also addressed the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid. Huddleston, along with Thabo Mbeki, addressed the Artists Against Apartheid- and AAM-organised march and festival on 28 June 1986, which was attended by 250 000 people.
Harare Conference on Children
In 1987 he organised the Harare International Conference on ‘Children, Repression and the Law in Apartheid’, which brought together leaders of the South African Liberation Movement. I worked on that conference from my base in Ranche House College on Rotten Row, Harare. I was lucky to work with him and several organisers for many weeks.
In 1988, Father Trevor Huddleston initiated the ‘Nelson Mandela Freedom at 70’ campaign which included the birthday concert at Wembley Stadium and the ‘Nelson Mandela Freedom March’ from Glasgow to London.
On 18 July 1988, on the eve of Mandela’s 70th birthday, Huddleston and Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed a rally of 200 000 at Hyde Park. In April 1989, after a week-long nationwide tour of Nigeria, Father Trevor Huddleston was awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, the country’s highest award.
The brief return to South Africa
In 1991 Huddleston returned to South Africa, intending to spend his last years in the country. However, he soon changed his mind and moved back to Mirfield, West Yorkshire.
In 1994 he was awarded the Torch of Kilimanjaro from Tanzania and the Indira Gandhi Award for Peace, Disarmament and Development. On 26 April 1994, Father Trevor Huddleston entered South Africa House in Trafalgar Square, London, for the first time in order to cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic election.
ACTSA – his last years in Yorkshire
In 1995 Huddleston became the founding Patron of Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), which was established as the successor to the AAM, and held this position until his death. Huddleston was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michaels and St George in the 1998 New Years Honours. At his Investiture on 24 March 1998 he chose the designation ‘Bishop Trevor of Sophiatown’.
Father Trevor Huddleston died on 20 April 1998 at his home in Mirfield. His ashes were interred next to the Church of Christ the King in Sophiatown.
The address of the Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre is 71-73, Toby Street, corner Edward Road, Sophiatown, Johannesburg. For more information, you can call the Centre on 011 673 1271 or visit their website on www.sophiatownthemix.com.
Robin Denniston (1999) Trevor Huddleston: A Life, (New York)|